The National Science Foundation has awarded a $256,000 grant to a West Lafayette-based startup to help in the fight against COVID-19. Akanocure Pharmaceuticals Inc. says it will use the funding to further study and develop a drug to treat severe cases of the disease, and potentially stop future outbreaks that involve other viruses.
Akanocure, located in the Purdue Research Park, was focused on developing drugs for hard-to-treat cancers prior to the pandemic. Purdue says, in addition to its original mission, the company has also been studying groups of molecules that could be used to fight SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and other viruses.
“We felt a moral obligation to help as the world struggles with this deadly pandemic that has claimed lives and economies, so we submitted our pitch to the National Science Foundation and were invited in March of 2020 to submit a full proposal,” said Sherine Abdelmawla, co-founder and chief executive officer of Akanocure. “The project is targeting the group of COVID-19 patients who will develop severe illness featuring multiple organ dysfunction.
Abdelmawla says the NSF awarded the Phase 1 research grant because the company’s effort not only addresses the current pandemic, but also future threats that could involve either a mutated form of SARS-CoV-2 or a completely different virus.
Akanocure plans to use the funding to develop what it calls AK-423, a broad-spectrum antiviral and immunomodulatory agent that is designed to not only keep the virus from replicating, but also aiding the patient’s immune system in responding appropriately to the virus.
“In the process of fighting the virus, our body organs get attacked by our own immune system as collateral damage,” Abdelmawla said. “An ideal treatment would not only stop the virus from making more copies of itself but would also regulate the abnormal immune response.”
She says the company’s work aims to ensure that the world is not caught unprepared again if another viral threat appears.
The grant award comes less than a year after Akanocure received $750,000 from the NSF for its cancer drug development efforts.